World In shadow of China war games, Taiwan bids farewell to 'Mr Democracy'
With international recognition, even when Taiwan wins, it loses
What's in a name? For self-ruled Taiwan, quite a lot, actually. © PHILIP FONG/AFP/AFP via Getty Images A woman holds a Taiwanese flag to cover her face as as she joins others at a rally to mark Taiwan's National Day, in the Tsim Sha Tsui district in Hong Kong on October 10, 2019. - Taiwan's National Day, also called called Double-Ten in a reference to the nationalist Republic of China set up by Sun Yat Sen on October 10, 1911, ending centuries of Chinese dynastic rule.
By Ben Blanchard and Ann Wang
TAIPEI (Reuters) - Taiwan bid farewell on Saturday to former president Lee Teng-hui, dubbed "Mr. Democracy" for ending autocratic rule in favor of free elections and championing Taiwan's separate identity from China, as Beijing again sent jets close to the island.
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Taiwan's armed forces strain in undeclared war of attrition with ChinaKAOHSIUNG, Taiwan (Reuters) - Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen visited a low-key but critical maintenance base for fighter jet engines on Saturday, offering encouragement as the Chinese-claimed island's armed forces strain in the face of repeated Chinese air force incursions.
Lee's memorial service took place in the shadow of renewed Chinese war games, as did his election as Taiwan's first democratic leader in 1996. China claims the island as its own territory.
Lee, who died in July, was president from 1988 to 2000.
His greatest act of defiance was becoming Taiwan's first democratically elected president in March 1996, achieved in a landslide following eight months of intimidating war games and missile tests by China in waters around the island.
Those events brought China and Taiwan to the verge of conflict, prompting the United States to send an aircraft carrier task force to the area in a warning to the Beijing government.
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Taiwan's President has accused Beijing of purposefully inflaming tensions in East Asia, after Chinese warplanes crossed the sensitive median line across the narrow strait that separates the mainland and the self-governing island almost 40 times on Friday and Saturday. © Ministry of National Defence Taiwan Defense Ministry photo shows an Chinese People's Liberation Army Air Force H-6 bomber intercepted by Taiwanese fighters on Friday.
On Friday and again on Saturday, China carried out drills in the Taiwan Strait, sending 19 aircraft near the island on Saturday alone, as Beijing expressed anger at the visit of a senior U.S. official to Taipei, there for Lee's memorial.[nL4N2GG046]
Speaking at the memorial service in a chapel at a Taipei university, President Tsai Ing-wen said he had shaped the Taiwan of today.
"Confronted with daunting international challenges, he skilfully led the people of Taiwan by promoting pragmatic diplomacy. Taiwan became synonymous with democracy and was catapulted onto the world stage. Because of this, President Lee came to be lauded as Mr. Democracy," Tsai said. "Thanks to his efforts, Taiwan now shines as a beacon of democracy."
Lee, a devout Christian, was 97.
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U.S. Undersecretary for Economic Affairs Keith Krach and former Japanese prime minister Yoshiro Mori also attended his memorial, and Japan's de facto ambassador in Taiwan read a statement from recently resigned Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, whom Beijing also reviles as a separatist, sent a recorded video message for his "close friend" Lee.
"Now he is no longer here, but we Buddhists believe in life after life, so most probably he will be reborn in Taiwan," he said.
Lee's remains will be interred at a military cemetery next month.
(Reporting by Ann Wang and Ben Blanchard; Editing by Michael Perry, Gerry Doyle and William Mallard)
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